“My Father as a Far East Prisoner of War” was my article published in "Your History" magazine. There is a summary of the main sections in the book to download, but here are a few points about my father's experiences.
The title reminds people that if not for the bombing of Hiroshima, and the appalling consequences for 110,000 innocent Japanese people, WWII would not have ended and over 130,000 POWs/Internees would have lost their lives. It includes a copy of the edict from the Japanese Emperor ordering the slaughter of all of them "by whatever means" at any sign of attack by the Allied troops.
My father, William Albert Halls, was taken prisoner in Singapore aged 18, and was held for three years in various prison camps. During this time, prisoners were moved around and required to work on various projects. My father worked on the infamous Burma Railway and also in the docks on ship repairs. While he refused to speak about his experiences until the last couple of years before he died, he did always chuckle when talking about the safety of the rivets in the ships’ holds when he worked there!
All prisoners of war are treated poorly, but it is clear that the Japanese were particularly cruel to their prisoners. Each day, prisoners lined up and waited to see whether any of them were chosen to be beheaded, and who it might be this time – some days it was no one. They were given rancid rice to eat and nothing else, which meant they sometimes resorted to eating grass. Sadly, more prisoners died in captivity in Japan than in any other prisoner of war camp in Europe.
When he was finally rescued, there were 50 men left from an original total of 500. But he smiled when he recollected how many food parcels were dropped before troops came in to liberate the camp. They expected there to be more men. Even though they had not eaten proper food for so long, my father and his fellow prisoners did their best to eat as much as they could manage, knowing they would be ill afterwards.
Many of the prisoners were sent on to Canada to recuperate before coming back to Britain, generally because their health was so poor. A naturally tall, well-built man, my father weighed 5 stone when he returned. His medical notes said he had dysentery, beriberi and a host of other diseases, as well as broken teeth from a Japanese rifle butt. As a mother of five sons, I cannot even imagine what these young men went through.
For many years, Dad was involved with FEPOW support groups in the Midlands, and I eventually became secretary of the regional group. Everyone had their own story, of course, and many had severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress that were not really recognized.
Many would still not consider any form of reconciliation, but a year before Dad died I was honoured to be asked to represent UK FEPOW at the Remembrance Day service in Japan, with Dad’s blessing. When I returned from Japan, my father was very ill from widespread cancer, and yet he still retained a willingness to consider reconciliation in the spirit it was intended. He was proud that I had represented him and his comrades. And I was very proud of him.
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